Category Archives: Texas

Why Houston should care about Elizabeth Warren

Outside of the Occupy Wall Street protests, and their related spinoffs, the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party carries on in the more traditional realm of politics. The current cause celebre? Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for Senate.

Beyond the “Dumb hunk Republican vs. Elitist Harvard Democrat” media frame that pundits are sure will dominate the race, yet will not take steps to stop, Warren should attract special attention from Houstonians. After all, this woman is not just chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the U.S. banking bailout or the author more than 100 scholarly articles and six academic books, or whatever.

She is also a graduate of the University of Houston.

It hurts this Rice graduate to heap such praise upon Cougar, but Warren seems to be the only Democrat out there with the ability or will to clearly and succinctly state the argument against the pseudo-Randian, eat the poor mindset the dominates the Republican party these days.

There is no one in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

I hear all this, oh this is class warfare, no! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.  You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear.  You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.  You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.  You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that maurauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look.  You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God Bless! Keep a Big Hunk of it.  But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

And that’s the point. We’re capitalists and we want the system to work. Right now, it isn’t working. It is simple, to the point, and for some reason completely missing from political dialogue. And it is coming from a UH graduate.

Now, Massachusetts is going to have a Democratic Senator sooner rather than later. And it would be nice of that Democrat were Elizabeth Warren. No matter one’s political orientation, University of Houston boosters should want one of the hundred US senators to be from that rising institution. A Senator is a fantastic piece of PR. Plus, an alumna in a high government location can help direct grants and contracts towards a university that otherwise would be overlooked.

Furthermore, it would only benefit Houston as a whole to have someone else in the Senate who understands what it is like to live in our impressive sprawl of a city. After all, not every city is like the Boston-NYC-DC corridor.

So if you want to see a Cougar in the Senate, or merely a Senator who can provide appropriate counterbalance to the off-the-cliff perspective of the current Republican Party,  send some money to her campaign.

A hint of sanity at Occupy Houston

Yesterday was Occupy Houston’s first big march. Of course, I wonder why they chose Thursday morning, when potential supporters were at work. But whatever. So while I missed the march from Market Square to Chase Bank, I was able to meet up with the protest at City Hall. Admittedly, protesting City Hall doesn’t seem to make much sense. Local government isn’t really the problem here. However, City Hall does have a big grassy field in front of it, which does have a history of letting people sleep there. So it makes sense from that perspective.

So anyways, Dean and I took in the sights and signs. Dishearteningly, the first thing I saw was a group of protesters holding Ron Paul 2012 and End the Fed signs.

As Dean and I walked around, the crazy continued to stand out from the crowd. For example, there was the woman with the anti-contrails t-shirt. Because airplanes are spraying chemicals, rather than condensation.

And what's the deal with government conspiracy airline food?

This walking (sitting) cliche was one among many. Of course, the best was the Ayn Rand guy. Imagine to yourself, but for a brief moment, what your average Ayn Rand believer looks like. (Alan Greenspan doesn’t count.) Because he was there!

No one was listening to this guy self-wank it

It does seem someone contradictory for this true Ubermench to be espousing utter and complete selfishness and self-interest among a crowd condemning corporate greed, but maybe that’s the point? Maybe he was trying to convert people? Alas, I didn’t ask. #worldsworstjournalist

Indeed, the Ron Paul, Ayn Rand, anti-federal government pro-annoying theme wouldn’t be complete without a bunch of Alan Moore fans.

I mean, I liked that movie, too. But I'm not going to shave my head and makeout with Mila Kunis

And if I knew wearing my League of Extraordinary Gentlemen shirt would make a difference, I would have bought one.

Amongst the crazy crowds, however, were the signs. Which were all lying in front of City Hall. I assume that after the march through downtown, people put all their signs in front of City Hall because they’re too tired to carry them or for aesthetic purposes or something.

However, it was these signs that had the most cohesive message. Most related to government putting interests of the top 1% ahead of he other 99%. Some were about student debt. Others were about unemployment. A few were about tax rates and sources of the national debt. But the overall sense was one of, well, sanity at least.

For people who are confused about the purpose of the protests, this sums it up pretty well

This was my favorite:

I guess the job isn't copy editor

I tried to provide my own little contribution by fixing the sign.

Were, not was. It takes the subjunctive.

Anyways, the point was clearer at this expression of Occupy Houston. People are mad that the wealthy have undue influence in government and policy. People think that hard work and education should mean a well paying job. This shouldn’t be controversial. This should just be.

I’m just not sure why we’re protesting it in front of City Hall.

But when I think about it, City Hall is a good place to have a protest about government and societal priorities. Just look at it.

Beautiful building

Houston City Hall is constructed of impressive stone work and beautiful carvings that usher back to great moments of history, commanding respect and communicating dignity. We should be willing to spend money on government structures and programs that work. And City Hall works great at serving as a seat of power, at least symbolically. I’ve yet to work inside. Unfortunately, it is covered in dirt and schmutz. Too bad we can’t pay people to keep it clean.

Anyways, some people actually slept in front of City Hall overnight. We’ll see how long this lasts, and how long I have to walk down to City Hall to take my lunch.

But I would prefer that we make the necessary policy changes sooner rather than later.

Also, forgive student debt and consumer debt in a one time Jubilee Year? (Funny note: That was my Torah portion at my bar mitzvah.)

Why it is important that you go to Occupy Houston

Today I attended Occupy Houston for the second time. By the end of the day, I was the 12th angriest I have ever been.

Generally, I think the Occupy Wall Street protests are a good thing. Since the 2008 economic collapse, we have seen the perpetrators go unpunished, and policy dictated to help the top 1% over the 99%. Capitalism should work. It is not working. Politicians seem more concerned about yet-to-exist consequences from a national debt rather than already extant problems from unemployment and personal debt.

Occupy Wall Street best expresses these concerns in the We Are The 99 Percent tumblr. People are suffering during this downturn. People who worked hard, studied, and played by the rules are not getting ahead. We were sold a false set of goods, and people in power don’t seem to care.

Polls show that majority of Americans would like a raise in taxes for the rich. Politicians say not a single dollar in tax increases, no matter the done in exchange.

People want to express their frustration, and they are doing so at those who seem to benefit from national misery despite having caused it.

And personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing some changes to the capital gains tax, the estate tax, and post-Citizens United campaign financing.

So, I went to Market Square, where I often have lunch anyways, to chat.

The first day, I just walked up to introduce myself and see what they were doing.

The second day I joined. That second day can be defined by the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good

The lunchtime crowd seemed to be mostly people who didn't have jobs, except the woman from NewsFix 39 who was interviewing some people I assume were leaders of sorts

When I first arrived, the group of about a dozen people was going over the underlying basis for operating the Occupy Wall Street protest, which is the Consensus System. Basically, everything has to be agreed to by a unanimous consensus. There is a flowchart to debate, and everyone gets to talk, and it is awfully inefficient. However, it does emphasize that everyone is part of the process and that we should only do what everyone can agree to. Ideally, this will focus the movement down to key issues: The 99% is struggling despite hard work. Help!

So they started a hypothetical, just to show how it goes. Some guy got up and half jokingly stated they should march in front of the police station. However, the nearby NewsFix camera freaked out the crowd, worried that their words would be twisted. So the NewsFix lady walked away, and I got up and proposed something more harmless and obviously (hopefully obviously, at least) a joke: The we adopt a Unicorn as our spirit animal.

We had pro arguments (Unicorns are graceful and powerful) and anti arguments (Unicorns are pretend and we are real), and then we had a fake vote. There were some votes against, and under actual practice, the supporters and opponents would go aside to negotiate a consensus, and then bring it back to a group vote.

Anyways, afterwards some guy gave a talk about problems of institutionalized racism, which was apparently in response to a meeting the night before when the New Black Panthers showed up, accused everyone of racism, and then left.

It was a bit silly, but it was nice to see people show up. And it was good.

Also, there is a video of it on NewsFix, with me in the background! Watch me eat a sandwich, adjust my hair, and be the only guy in a suit.

Alas. It quickly turned to bad.

The Bad

A guy in orange was next on the list to talk. He brought up the idea of having an egg timer during peoples’ speeches so they don’t ramble. I left 45 minutes later and they were still arguing the matter.

There is a reason people use Robert’s Rules of Order instead of consensus.

But alas, as this all began I decided to put myself forward as the pseudo parliamentarian during this discussion. The position had an actual name, but I forget what it is called. All I know is that when I said:

“oh, so I’m basically parliamentarian,”

I got the response:

“What’s a parliamentarian?”

My sandwich for Christopher Warrington.

Alas, when do we get to protest in front of bank buildings?

The Ugly

I walked back through the park on the way to catch the 78 bus to a Planned Parenthood fundraiser at Poison Girl. Everything about this turned out to be awful.

Initially, I just stood around, listening to people. At first, they were talking about how they need to eliminate the Federal Reserve.  I brought up how Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently stated that he can’t blame people involved with Occupy Wall Street for doing what they’re doing.

This got the general response of: Well, he’s just trying to distract us so we don’t blame him.

Seems to me like the Federal Reserve is the only powerful group actually trying to help the economy.

The discussion then moved on to how the government has FEMA camps and is probably ready to put us in them. The last time I heard this, it was a plot point in the X-Files movie.

And it just kept going.

I tried to start a conversation with the orange shirted egg timer guy. Apparently, he thinks that the Occupy movement will somehow overthrow the government. I don’t know how the 12 people standing in the park will attract enough people to overthrow the government, and I don’t think he does either. As the conversation continued, it seemed like he knew very little.

He first proposed that we replace current government with a way that randomized citizens would check people in power. I asked what would prevent people from organizing among themselves and forming parties, becoming the same sort of corrupt structure he opposes now.

“You can’t have corruption in chaos.”

I proposed, rather, instant runoff voting and policy that would reduce money in political campaigns, and greater barriers between the public and private sector.

He did not know what instant runoff voting was, so I got to rant about that for a while.

Still, he continued to assert that the problem was that our current government was created in 1776, before the Internet.

Ignoring just what the Internet has to do with anything, I corrected him:

“You mean 1787. The Constitution wasn’t ratified until 1787.”

He at first talked about how he didn’t remember his civics class, and then also complained as to why schools teach US history at the end of high school, when they should teach it first. I stated that I thought it was because the curriculum began at the beginning, with ancient civilizations, and then built up to the modern day. Then it got weird.

“Yeah, but they don’t cover all the ancient civilizations. What about Atlantis.”

“Haha, oh I don’t think that is real.”

“Yes it is.”

All downhill from there.

“Like, you can’t prove it. You can’t prove that dinosaurs don’t exist.”

Be still my beating heart that dinosaurs somehow are still alive, but alas, no.

“We, I can prove that below a certain level of geological strata there is a large collection of dinosaur fossils, and then after a strata line indicating high levels of material indicative of comets or asteroids, there are no more dinosaur fossils.”

“Yeah, but what if they live underground?”

“… Where?”

Then, I got to hear him actually, honestly, try to argue Hollow Earth Theory.

Now, I posited that if the earth were hollow, then where would the magnetic field that protects us from radiation come from? (though honestly I should have just gone with the gravity argument)

His answer: “We’re not alone in the universe.”

… what?!

He then instructed me to watch a video from a tethered satellite experiment from STS-75.

“What do you see?”

Uh, lights. Probably space dust?

“Space dust? Yeah, what else is up there, space geese?”

Apparently the correct answer was aliens.

Remembering my training, I resorted to my iPhone to see what the answer actually was. Admittedly, the video does look cool and crazy. And wikipedia does a good job explaining why:

“A tether is not a spherical object, and has significant extent. This means that as an extended object, it is not directly modelable as a point source, and this means that the center of mass and center of gravity are not usually colocated. Thus the inverse square law does not apply except at large distances, to the overall behaviour of a tether. Hence the orbits are not completely Keplerian, and in some cases they are actually chaotic. With bolus designs, rotation of the cable interacting with the non linear gravity fields found in elliptical orbits can cause exchange of orbital angular momentum and rotation angular momentum. This can make prediction and modelling extremely complex.”

And if you listen to the astronauts talking, the particles are debris from the break in the tether.

Anyways, at this point, I yelled at him that he was crazy and he was going to lose a lot of people he would want on his side and then I stormed off to wait for the 78 bus that was 30 minutes late I hate you Metro Houston.

In conclusion, Occupy Houston is currently filled with crazy people who want to End the Fed, think that the earth is possibly hollow and filled with dinosaurs, think specs of light is proof of aliens, and think that we should and will overthrow the government, but not via elections.

And think that the constitution was written in 1776.

Which is why you should go to Occupy Houston.

There are legitimate issues facing the nation. There are problems with the social contract. It is supposed to be that if you work hard, play by the rules, and get a good education, you will get ahead. Now, you just get a lot of debt. But rather than focus on the problems facing the 99%, government seems focused on the issues facing the top 1%.

It is time to get some attention. It is time to hold banks responsible for the problems they have caused. It is time for sane people to say that something is wrong.

So please, don’t let me be the only one at the next meeting who actually wants to change policy.

Rick Perry through the lens of Austin

I’ve only ever lived in Austin for a summer at a time. First, after sophomore year of college, when I was an intern at Texas Monthly magazine. I lived in one of those spoiled college kid tenements right off the drag where I had my own bathroom and never talked to the two asian roommates who spent the whole time playing World of Warcraft. I still owe them for a cable bill.

The next time was after 2L year of law school, when I was an intern with the ACLU of Texas. That time, I sublet from a friend who lived in an apartment complex that was about 75% Hispanic families. It may not have been on the drag, but I sure did enjoy reading by the pool every weekend.

The point is, despite the stereotypes about Austin, it is a large, diverse city. However, even within the central University of Texas, 6th Street, Clicheland, Austin is still no homogenous Xanadu that people not from Texas bring up when you say you’re from Texas. In my limited experience, there are two sides to that Plantoic ideal of Austin. The Austin What Were. And the Austin What Is.

The Austin What Were is that fairytale land where ex-hippies, proto-hipsters, marijuana and music fans of all types could live on the cheap, just playing instruments and making music when they’re not working in coffee shops. Everyone misses this Austin. Even if it never actually existed, or still exists.

The Austin What Is is the feeling of being the only Rice fan at a University of Texas bar, looking out on the sea of bros and peroxide, the burnt orange polos only slightly darker than the faces tanned not from Zilker Park but rather the free tanning beds that the $1000/month student apartments provide. But in spite of that, they’re all affable young fellows.

Today, I stumbled upon two YouTube music videos about Texas Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry. One was created by Austin What Were. One was created by Austin What Is.

I’ll leave you to guess which is which.

Now, I am certainly no fan of Rick Perry, but my biases are obvious. However, through the gift of Twitter and Facebook, these two videos appeared today at almost the exact same time, without request (The Internet is Magic).  The juxtaposition of the two videos seems to say something about Austin.

Rice v Purdue: Top 5 overheards

Yesterday, Rice beat Purdue. A C-USA team beat a Big 10 team, huzzah! The last time Rice at home defeated a team from a conference that automatically qualifies for a BCS bowl since Rice beat Duke in 2001. Of course, one of the best parts about playing a school that actually cares about its football program, besides beating them and making their fans and players cry, is sheer contrast of the crowds. This always leads to entertaining conversations to overhead in the audience, or read via Tweets. Anyways, here in no particular order are my top 5 Overheards or Tweets from the game

5. “Look at that kid” [Points to a Rice student taking pictures from the top of the stadium] “What’s he doing? He must be some kind of ‘tard. Der der der!” — Said by an drunk, overweight Purdue fan in a helmet that was too small for his fat head.

4. “Yes! Rice just beat Purdue in American Football!” — A University of Texas student doing his impression of a Rice student

3. “And while UT has it’s own brand of water, Rice University has it’s own brand of beer,” [showing Saint Arnold on screen] — Rice MOB show

2. “I don’t care if miller light is union made, it is still undrinkable swill” — Overheard in the Rice beer pen

1. “A classy @ricemob sketch for halfime saluting JSC & @NASA …classiness only explained by the script being rewritten by Rice Public Affairs! — Tweet by @expatminister.

Rice University, not University of Houston, belongs in the Big 12

How many Aggies does it take to move a school from the Big 12 to the SEC? I don’t know, but why would Texas A&M want to join the Securities and Exchange Commission?

Anyways, Texas A&M (is that another name for SMU, as my New York grandmother asked) isn’t going anywhere. But that hasn’t stopped talk about college sports realignments. While the conversation should have ended with the SEC’s rejection of A&M, diehard University of Houston boosters just won’t shut up about how they deserve to be in the Big 12.

Most recently, State Rep. Garnet Coleman wrote a letter to Chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education Dan Branch encouraging the University of Houston to replace A&M in case of any move. (pdf: ChairmanBranch UH big 12)

But if any Houston-based C-USA team belongs in the Big 12, it is Rice.

Why? Because of the crazy arguments I can make right here.

1. Rice has a bigger endowment

First of all, Rice has a bigger endowment. While I didn’t think this was an issue, but the Wikipedia article about the Big 12 Conference seems to imply otherwise. Simply by specifically listing endowment, the article implies that it is an important criteria.

Rice University has an endowment of $4.1 billion. Now that’s a hefty package right there, especially in contrast to UH’s wimpy $553 million. Rice would be number 3, but UH would find itself behind even Texas Tech.

Let’s just face it,  Rice is better endowed than UH.

Advantage: Rice

Rice 1 UH 0.

2. Rice has a bigger football stadium

Currently, the smallest football stadium in the Big 12 is Baylor University’s Floyd Casey Stadium, which holds 50,000. As is the university’s custom, UH would come far below this already low minimum, with Robertson Stadium holding merely 32,000. That is less than Rice University’s old Rice Field.

Rice Stadium, on the other hand, currently holds 50,000 and is expandable to 70,000.

Plus, Rice Stadium has already held a Super Bowl, and was the site of President Kennedy’s “We Will Go to the Moon” speech. What has Robertson Stadium had? Uh, an AFL championship game.

Advantage: Rice

Rice 2 UH 0

3. Rice has a bigger baseball field

Rice’s consistently successful baseball team plays in the beautiful Reckling Park, which seats 5,368, larger than all but 4 of the Big 12 baseball parks.  UH also has a baseball team, apparently. It plays in Cougar Field, which merely holds 5,000.

Advantage: Rice

Rice 3 UH 0

4. Rice has a better athletics attendance ratio

In 2009, Rice had an average attendance per football game of 13,552. In the same year, UH had an average attendance of 25,242. UH may seem to have the advantage here … if you suck at critical thinking. But the fact of the matter is that Rice does a much better job at getting fans to turn out than UH does.

Rice is able to average 13,552 fans to football games with but 5,760. On the other hand, UH has a total student body of 38,752 yet can only get a football turnout of 25,242. Rice demonstrates the ability to get fans and support from beyond campus in a way that UH merely cannot. While Rice can get more than double of its student body to show up, UH can’t even get the whole campus to turn out to games.

What a weak and pathetic show of support. What a lack of athletic potency. Poorly endowed indeed.

I bet UH can’t even get UH student James Franco to turn out to games.

Furthermore, while Rice has an attendance : student body ratio (ASB) of 2.35. UH has an ASB of merely .65. Rice’s ratio is more than 3.5 times greater than UH’s. Now that is a show of real team support and talent. Assuming static ASB, if Rice were the size of UH, it could get football crowds of more than 91,000. This is the sort of number that belongs in the Big 12.

Advantage: Rice.

Rice 91,000 UH 0

In conclusion, Rice belongs in the Big 12. Let’s make this happen.

Oslo Bomber says he likes Texas

With the death of Osama bin Laden, the title of Biggest Terrorist was up for grabs. Everyone was betting on another brown or Muslim guy, but the other day we all learned otherwise in a horrible terrorist attack in Oslo. In a bombing and shooting that seemed to target specific future leaders in Norway’s more liberal party, a blonde European Christian terrorist left 92 people dead.

Congrats, asshole. You're the new face of terrorism!

Apparently, the enemy was “multiculturalism” and Islam, and this was Anders Behring Breivik’s attack.

But he didn’t just leave behind corpses and charred buildings for us to peer upon in mourning as he waits for his trial. He also left a 1500 page rambling manifesto in which he calls for a war between a Christian Europe and Islam.

A manifesto calling for ethnic cleansing and war in Europe? Oooh, oooh, Godwin’s Law!

Seriously, if he had his way, his little weird U-beard would be the 21st century toothbrush mustache.

I haven’t had a chance to read the whole thing (pdf: Anders Behring Breivik manifesto), which the terrorist titled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence.” However, a quick search found a few references to my dear home state of Texas. His comment? He likes it!

 I did enjoy Las Vegas as well but I really dislike the superficial aspects of American society. The American state I found least superficial was Texas.

You hear that guys? When asked about his favorite destination, this terrorist said Texas! Well, not as favorite. But we’re at least somewhere that wasn’t as superficial as the rest of the country.

I guess he’s never been to Dallas?

So yeah, terrorist writes a manifesto about war and ethnic cleansing in Europe and sees no problem with killing children for political aims.

So…. Never Again?

The Terrifying History of the Rice Cryptid

The origins of the Rice University Cryptid, the Evan’s Hare, revealed. And it all began in 1916…

But a few weeks ago, I spotted an unidentifiable creature the claims the Rice University campus as its hidden home. Apparently similar to the Jackalope, this beast that I have deemed “Evan’s Hare” still remains loose, and largely a mystery.

What is this fantastic beast that I have found?!

Some have mocked my account of this hooved, unexplainable wunderbeast. However, the revealing spotlight of history should leave no question about the fantastical status of the Evan’s Hare, and its mysterious origins at Rice University.

It all began in 1916.

Rice University admitted its first class in 1912. In those early years, The Rice Institute, as it was originally known, spent considerable effort recruiting and retaining top minds in maths, sciences, and other fields. Some of those early names may still be recognizable to students today. Notably, Julian Huxley was one of Rice’s first professors.

Note Huxley, the first Director of UNESCO, and a founding member of the World Wildlife Fund, in this picture from Rice’s first yearbook.

What a brave, new world Rice was back then.

While Huxley may be the most famous face in that practically centennial photographs, the man important for the story is Hermann Joseph Muller. Muller was recruited by Huxley to teach at Rice, where he continued some of the first genetic research. Notably this research focused on the Drosophila, aka, the fruit fly. But that wasn’t all of his work…

Hermann Joseph Muller: Father of the Rice Cryptid?

Muller may be better known for his 1946 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He was granted the award for “the discovery that mutations can be induced by x-rays.”

How convenient that the home of this rabbitesque mutant was where the father of radiation-induced mutations first cut his teeth as a full professor. But of course, that would be preposterous. It is not like there is a picture of Muller, and the rest of his scientific team, with a rabbit.

Oh wait there totally is.

Notice the little creature in front of Muller in the Campanile photo. Doesn’t it look a little familiar?

How convenient that the father of radiation-induced mutations is photographed with a rabbit-like creature.

The connections are becoming apparent and the truth is being revealed. So is the Evan’s Hare a cryptid, or some mutant created by man? Or could it be both?

The Rice Historian comments that there is no information about the rabbit in the 1916 photograph. And indeed, there is little information about Muller’s time at Rice. Of course, why would they want to advertise this man. Sure, he won the Nobel Prize. But he also had explicit Communist sympathies and worked closely with scientists from the USSR. Muller also was involved in the illegal leftist student newspaper, The Spark. So perhaps Rice, as fitting Texas’ mid-century anti-communism, decided to cover up any ties with this pinko. And with those ties, evidence of his genetic experiments on rabbits.

So today, the offspring of his mutant creatures still roam the grassy quads and oak filled campus of Rice University.

Hermann Muller. A Frankenstein to rabbits. A creator to the Evan’s Hare. A father to the Rice Cryptid.

Houston Pride Parade was Totally Gay

Pride Parade? That’s so gay!

Indeed it was. Here the day after, I think I’m suffering from Glitter Lung, which is not unlike Flavor Crystal Lung that besets our dear miners who toil for Frito-Lay to provide the world with coolest of ranch. Luckily I did not accidentally let ruptured glow-stick goo somehow get into my mouth. That is a lesson well learned from many a bar and bat mitzvah party. I am convinced that the odd flavor indicates glow sticks are not of this world, but are stolen alien technology reverse engineered from Roswell.

Of course, the day started at Anvil. And there is no better way to start a fun-filled event fraught with top-notch people-watching than a homemade Pride Parade Bingo game.

I don't think I saw a gay animal

I didn’t quite get a blackout, but did see most of the things. However, a good part of the game was also seeing things/people and then regretting that they weren’t on the bingo board. For example: guy in a mustache with gold lamé underwear.

We saw him first at Anvil, and then occasionally throughout the day

There was also the woman with the horse hoof shoes. Save it for Renaissance Faire, lady!

Do they have those in my size? Nay!

Of course, this was Houston and thus the usual Houston confusion as how to deal with people walking in the street. The Wendy’s on Westheimer charged $15 for parking, $2 for a bag of ice, and $1 to use the restroom. Totally gay.

Where's the beef?

Overall, the day really seemed to come into its own. First, there was the whole festival that preceded the parade. Given that the parade doesn’t start until 9 pm, that is a good day’s worth of having a gay ‘ol time.

Houston is a place that, due to city design and weather, one does not usually spot many pedestrians, even in the more walkable neighborhoods. Seeing the crowds walking along Westheimer was quite the sight to behold. If only every day were more like that.

The whole thing reminded me of being back in New York City, with youthful crowds just walking around. And best of all, random cheap hotdogs on the street! Another reason why Catbirds is one of the best bars in Houston.

the Best Bar

Grilled dogs vs Water Dogs: Whoever wins, we lose

The random mini-stages and musical groups were a surprising and welcome addition, not to mention felt like a personal fuck-you to Austin.

Yeah that's right Houston has music

We ended up in a friend of a friend’s apartment that overlooked Westheimer. The view was something else.

The sun shines on the crowds anticipating the gay pride parade

A view of downtown Houston

I kinda like this one. Thank you, Hipstamatic.

This is basically an ad for El Real.

Of course, we weren’t the only ones who recognized the benefits of an elevated view. A bunch of people climbed on top of Catbirds to watch from the roof. This also got my bingo square for “look at that fukkin’ hipster.”

Don't fall! (He didn't)

There were some great floats/cars in the parade. For example, there was the South Beach float.

The Lesbians Over Age Fifty float (Bingo!)

The marching band that played Lady Gaga.

And of course, Houston Police Department squad car number 69.

Come on, you know that totally was not on accident.

Of course, my personal favorite activity was watching the underage kids in the Wendys parking lot drinking for what was obviously the first time. They did not appreciate me yelling at them, exposing their secret hiding place behind the dumpster where the cops wouldn’t dare see them sneaking booze out of a large soda. It was all fun and games until one of the young rapscallions PTFO’d.

At least I assume that is what happened.

Luckily, he came to in a few minutes and hopefully learned an important lesson.

Overall, a fun time. It is difficult to tell whether the day was especially rambunctious because of New York having legalized gay marriage just the day before. Perhaps those on the street had a better perspective.

Here is Dan playing a ukulele at Clare’s apartment after the parade.

Tyrannical Houston Tow Trucks, and what we can do

Tow Trucks in Houston

Today, the Houston Press had a great blog entry about tow trucks. Specifically, how they act above the law, like a hoard of marauding bandits who regularly break into cars so that they can steal them and hold them hostage until owners pay outrageous fees.

Tow truck drivers in Houston can break into your car in order to tow it — against state regulations — and here’s why: Law enforcement ain’t gonna stop ’em.

We learned this by following up on an e-mail from a guy who says he watched a driver for Fast Tow jimmy the locks on an SUV in order to get inside and secure the vehicle for towing. (The truck was parked on a portion of the road that, at that time of night, was a no-parking zone). It made us wonder: is this legal? Should be a fairly simple thing to find out, no? Boy, were we wrong.

The blog’s comments section is filled with personal anecdotes about unscrupulous tow truck drivers who jimmy (aka break into) cars to make towing easier. Tow truck drivers will even wait and watch someone get out of a car and then go tow it, and then demand a bribe if caught by the owner.

A Semi-Personal Anecdote about Towing in Houston

While blog comments are not necessarily the most reliable sources, they certainly fit my own experiences. One of the best stories I have heard was from my college roommate Eric.

He had gone downtown for something or other, and parked in one of those parking lots where you slip the right amount of money into a little slit that corresponds with the number of the spot where you parked your car. This Rice University engineer was not one to cut corners or break the rules, but when he returned he found his car had gone missing. If I remember the story correctly, at first he assumed it was stolen, but then realized it had probably been wrongly towed. After getting a ride home, he contacted the towing company whose number was posted at the parking lot, attempting to locate he car. He tried to explain that it had been wrongly towed, but to no avail. Eventually, he had to pay the towing fee, which I believe was somewhere over $200.

The tow truck companies messed with the wrong guy.

He did some quick research, and decided to file for a hearing against the tow truck company. Well, of course, he won. Part of prevailing in such a hearing means he was awarded:

Court costs to the prevailing party;

The reasonable cost of any photographs to an owner or operator of a vehicle who prevails;

An amount equal to the amount that the towing charge or booting removal charge exceeded fees for non-consent tows; and,

Reimbursement of fees paid for vehicle towing and storage or removal of a boot.

Despite having prevailed in the hearing, my roommate had quite some difficulty getting the tow company to pay him back. Eventually, he had to get a sheriff to show up at the towing facility and force the company to pay back the money they basically had stolen.

Alas, not everyone is as resourceful and driven that Rice engineer roommate.

Indeed, in a gun-friendly place like Texas, it is easy to imagine such a situation turning violent. Someone walks out to his or her car, only to see a stranger breaking in through the window, preparing to tow it away. I know some small part of me would want to be able to pull a gun on such scum.

After all, the purpose of parking and traffic laws should not be to line to pockets of these disgraceful companies, but rather to maintain the safety of our roadways, aesthetics of our neighborhoods, and business interests of our parking lots. If someone offers to move his or her vehicle, and perhaps pay whatever fine exists for the wrongful parking, then that should be enough to fulfill the purpose of the law. Letting tow trucks run wild only increases the risk of harm to our communities and compounds the danger of our streets and freeways.

The comments on the Houston Press blog are certainly not wanting for personal examples of tow trucks making our streets more, not less, hazardous. Indeed, a quick google search can find many such instances.

However, despite the gut reaction, we do have ways to ameliorate this despicable practice that our city seems to tolerate. The way to defeat the hegemonic power of this tow truck regime is through the democratic avenues  of our duly elected officials.

City Hall needs to pass some laws.

There Ought to be a Law

First, Houston should impose strict liability upon tow truck companies. Regardless of whether it was their fault or not, tow truck companies should be held liable if they wrongly tow a vehicle. This legal standard would help ensure that the tow truck companies double check that they are correctly towing a vehicle. After all, the burden would be on them.

Secondly, Houston should not limit recovery for a wrongly towed vehicle to reimbursement of court costs and towing fees. The city should legislate that courts can provide recovery for Actual Damages.

To quote my Barbri practice book, Actual Damages means any damages recoverable at common law, including economic and non-economic, and tort damages. This standard includes mental anguish as well as pain and suffering.

Additionally, Houston should borrow from the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and compound damages based on whether the wrongful towing was committed knowingly or intentionally. If the tow truck company knowingly towed a vehicle when it shouldn’t have, the court should be allowed to reward up to double actual damages. If the tow truck company intentionally towed a vehicle when it shouldn’t have, the court should be allowed to reward up to triple actual damages.

Such a calculation of damages may reach an rather high cost, but the power imbalance in the towing regime justifies creating an economic and legal incentive to guarantee that all towing is proper. After all, anecdotes and experience show that citizens have quite the difficult time negotiating with tow truck drivers. Tow truck drivers need incentive to admit to fault when confronted, and these sorts of damages are just the incentive that our city can provide.

Furthermore, Houston is a driving city. A person’s car is often a lifeline to work, school, family, or anything that Houston has to offer. To take away someone’s car is to remove her from a functioning city. City Hall should do everything it can to guarantee that those who have their cars wrongfully towed are properly compensated, and also guarantee an economic and legal incentive against wrongful towing.

Thirdly, Houston should prevent tow trucks from towing non-ticketed cars from public streets and parking lots. Tow trucks are not elected officials. They are not the police. They are not public servants and they do not act to protect and serve. Tow trucks are businesses, run by private citizens. They should not be allowed to remove other citizens’ vehicles at whim. Only upon approval from properly trained police officers should tow trucks have the authority to remove cars. We would not allow tow trucks to go around granting tickets for speeding or running red lights. Heck, Houston doesn’t even like it when the police do that via cameras. Then why do we let tow trucks enforce parking laws? This is a responsibility for the police, not private companies.

Fourth, Houston should legislate that tow trucks are city actors. If tow trucks are going to enforce parking laws like police, then they should be held responsible like police. If tow trucks are going to seize private property, then they should be held to same standard as the other grand seizer of property: the government.

Therefore, as state actors, tow truck drivers could be held subject to §1983 charges. This means that tow trucks could be brought to Federal Court for violating a citizen’s rights under the constitution. This would help ensure that tow trucks don’t just act in accordance with proper towing law, but act up to the highest standards of liberty. This would prevent discrimination in the method of towing. It would also allow drivers to remove their complaints from local elected judges who may be under the sway of tow truck company donors, and seek the judgement of the Federal Judiciary.

Fifth, tow trucks should not be allowed to breach the peace while towing. This rule would hold tow trucks to the same standards as repo men. Similarly to repo men, tow trucks generally do not need a judicial process before seizing a vehicle, nor do they need to provide notice. However, repo men are not allowed to breach the peace in the process of repossessing property. This means that if either repressor or the reposessee breaches the peace during a repossession, then the repossession is not OK.

If Houston applies this standard to tow trucks, it means that people who find their vehicles in the middle of being towed can stop the towing by breaching the peace. Breaching the peace requires no grand effort, a mere making a scene or loud temper tantrum should be enough. Heck, even onlookers who disapprove of a towing could prevent it by honking at the tow truck and generally breaching the peace.

Imposing this standard would help guarantee that if someone was being towed, well gosh darn it, he deserved it.

Finally, tow trucks should have to make reasonable attempt to provide notice to the person whose car is being towed and give that person a reasonable opportunity to move the car. Houston could accomplish this by creating standardized “notice cards” that people could place in their cars or under their windshields that include number where they could be contacted in case of towing. A tow truck would have to make a reasonable effort to locate such a card, contact the owner, and then grant that person a reasonable amount of time to move the vehicle.

After all, the purpose of parking and traffic laws is not to enrich private companies, but provide for safety, aesthetics, and business interests. If someone can move his car, then the goals of the laws are fulfilled. There is no need to force citizens to pay often-dangerous, private towing companies to guarantee that we follow the laws.

In conclusion…

The state of towing in Houston is despicable. However, we have a way to resist this towing regime without resorting to violence. We have our duly elected representatives in City Hall. So write the mayor, write your city council person, write the Houston Chronicle. We can change the laws.

Or we can throw some eggs at tow trucks, whatever.